As you drive through the blighted neighborhood past dilapidated warehouses with shadowy forms lounging in the doorways, you begin to wonder if your nocturnal expedition into the world of Miami’s cutting edge art scene may have been a mistake. But, as you step out onto the street, you begin to pick up a definite vibe—energetic and exciting—from the music and chatter of voices. Through the first doorway you squint into bright lights and vivid colors splashing the walls, and you realize you are indeed in the right place, the Wynwood Art Walk.
Wynwood wasn’t always the hotbed of artistic innovation that it is today. Years ago it was an apparel and warehouse district next to a massive train yard, which is now the colossal Mid-Town complex. As rail shipping disappeared, the area became blighted, and just a few years ago walking through Wynwood at night would’ve been inviting danger at worst, and extremely boring, at least.
Resurgence of the arts in the Miami area actually started in Miami Beach, but as real estate prices increased dramatically, most artists and galleries moved to the mainland around 40th Street and North Miami Avenue where the Design District was born. As this area also became gentrified, prices again became too expensive to support most galleries, and the bleeding edge arts community slowly migrated south to the old, blighted warehouse district where rents were low and ceilings were high.
Art Walk Genesis
Years before Wynwood became known, David Lombardi, principle of Lombardi Properties and area investor, had the idea of doing an arts party at his Wynwood properties to promote the arts and to increase the value of his buildings. These were called Roving Fridays and were one of the inspirations for the eventual Wynwood Art Walks.
The Design District had been doing a walk for a few years, though it had slowed down by that time. But, as more galleries moved into Wynwood, they soon put together their own art walk. Originally, it was on the first Saturdays of the month, but at some point it was decided to combine both the Design District and the Wynwood Art Walk onto the same night, and Second Saturdays was born.
In the early days of the Wynwood walk only a few of us brave souls who made it over. You could see maybe a dozen people on the street furtively hurrying from one of the half dozen or so galleries to the next. The streets were dark and the police presence was nonexistent, but even then, people began to realized what was happening and saw the potential. Back then, it was kind of scary getting from one gallery to the next. Not so much, anymore.
Today, the Wynwood district is filled with a shifting myriad of galleries. Many of them come and go faster than even the nightclubs over in South Beach, but some have flourished by presenting an interesting array of artistic works. Today, hundreds of people jam the galleries and enjoy the creative vigor flowing through the area. Of course, many attempt to enjoy the free alcohol, as well.
Wynwood galleries represent a broad array of artistic styles and statements, so it’s difficult to make specific recommendations—what one person finds intellectually stimulating, another may find completely bourgeois.
The two oldest galleries in Wynwood are Bernice Steinbaum and Damien B Art Center. Frederic Snitzer and Kevin Bruk are also well established, and all have spent the last few years bringing thought-provoking art to Miami.
The Harold Golen Gallery has suffered through some setbacks, but is tops when it comes to pop art. A couple of new spaces that have emerged and are pushing the northern boundary of the district are PanAmerican ArtProjects and MAC Art Group. Pushing aesthetic, rather than geographical, boundaries are Artformz Alternatives and Hardcore Art Contemporary Space. Numerous other galleries bring their own sensibility, to the mix.
A little bit off the beaten path, and always with plenty of food and beverage on hand, is Edge Zones. This is a different kind of space that seems to cater primarily to young, up and coming artists. It is definitely worth the trek across Miami Avenue to see what they are up to.
During Art Walk most of the galleries provide complimentary alcohol and perhaps snacks to enhance your experience. Get there early if you wish to partake, though, because with the size of the crowds these days, the goodies sometimes runs out fast. Follow the crowd’s energy and let yourself be entertained.
The Design District is a little older than Wynwood and significantly more staid and stodgy. It has been extensively renovated and is far less sketchy. Most of the businesses there are in interior design, though a lot of those do dabble in art. Most notable in the Design District is the long-running Art Fusion Galleries. They usually host live music and have a good supply of wine on hand, as well as a wide variety of interesting art to take in.
A newcomer to the Design District, and bringing a lot of enthusiasm with it, is AE District. With a large, open space, they display some truly remarkable works and often have live music.
Wolfgang Roth is also relatively new to the area and seems to specialize in more high-end fine art. There you’ll find a more sedate crowd and some very appealing works. Many of the design houses are open during the walk, as well. CityLoftArt and Luminaire Lab are two you’ll want to catch.
Two more interesting additions to the Design District are Locust Projects and Spinello Gallery. Locust Projects is a non-profit space dedicated to presenting avant-garde installations. (Locust was originally in Wynwood, but has moved up to the Design District.)
Spinello is a genius gallerist whose exhibits always generate great excitement as well as good sales. He too was originally located in Wynwood. Neither seem to fit in with the more sober sensibility of the Design District, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
And do not forget to stop by the Cabana Cachaca lounge for all the free alcohol you can stand in line for.
If you really want to get off the regular routes and see something surprising, there are two places you want to hit, O.H.W.O.W. (Our House West Of Wynwood) and the brand new Stash Gallery. Both definitely cater to the younger crowd and it shows. Both are recommended.
When art walks began a few years ago, they were relatively short, lasting maybe two or three hours. Now, they get going as early as 6:00pm and may go as late as midnight for some galleries. You are going to need all that time and more to see even a significant portion of all that’s available. With all that walking, you are likely to get hungry, as well, unless you can manage to snag enough free snacks before the hordes descend later in the evening.
Unfortunately, food is not easy to come by in the Wynwood district. Since it is still growing and expanding, only a few restaurants have taken the leap into the area. My recommendation is to start at the north end of Wynwood, on 36th Street, and eat at Lost and Found Saloon, really good, fresh food at reasonable prices.
From there you can hit Damien B and Bernice Steinbaum, both also on 36th, then stop by the Bakehouse Art Complex on 32nd Street on your drive down to the main part of Wynwood which is around 23rd Street. Bakehouse sometimes does a cookout, making it a fun way to support a deserving cause.
One of the restaurants that has really taken a bold step and moved into the heart of the Wynwood district is Joey’s, on the higher end of casual dining. The service is excellent and the food is very good.
If you get hungry later, but do not want to stop enjoying the art, visit the Fifi Gallery, where they’ve opened their own little cafe in the back yard of their gallery. The food is prepared by the owners and their friends, and it’s inexpensive and fun. Highly recommended.
If you’re in the mood to part with a little more case, the place for that is Michael’s Genuine which always gets high marks for food quality, but you do pay for it.
If you’re still ready to party after hours of traipsing all over the barrio, there are a few places that claim to have after parties for the art walks, but none of them are official, no matter what the flyers say. One interesting option is a new venue called Awarehouse. Part art gallery, part performance space, part empty, the nights here have been hit or miss so far, but once they establish themselves, things may start looking up. As it is, they generally have some interesting acts, free alcohol, and are smoke-free on the inside.
Wynwood Social Club is quite new, and it’s still unclear what it’s supposed to be. Usually $10.00 to get in and bring your own alcohol, they have a somewhat strange variety of live and semi-live music acts. The vibe is very laid back as you can relax on the couches or in the school desks. It’s right in the heart of the Wynwood district, so stick your head in as you walk by and see if it suits your taste.
The closest actual nightclub to the area is the Electric Pickle, which used to be Circa 28. They usually have a number of live artsy bands and DJ music after Art Walk. Aside from the ingrained smell of cigarette smoke, it’s a great place to go for an after party vibe.
The Vagabond (soon to be “Steam”), partly owned by Carmel Ophir who brought us the long-running Back Door Bamby for so many years is not quite into the mess that is downtown Miami and has a very cool vibe.
Wynwood is currently making the transition from blight to artistic innovation, and you can watch its progress, second Saturdays, every month during Art Walk.
(photos 1,3 & 6: Joseph Brown | photos 2, 4 & 5: James Echols)